Experiencing Africa from the hotel garden in Mombasa

After an eventful side-trip through Ethiopia, Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya, we felt we felt in need for a serious break. Evgeny, Tanya and myself were on a constant move from day one during this trip. We have slept on local buses in Uganda, searched for accommodation late at night downtown Rwanda and we slept in turns in Addis Ababa’s public places to save money. We ate local food which was tasty – but nearing the end of our trip we were craving for some serious and mostly unhealthy European food.Trees at Diani Beach, MombasaTherefore, we decided to follow the tourist trail and fly from Nairobi to Mombasa for a three day rest. So far, we haven’t seen the sea during this journey and the prospects of laying in the sand with nothing to do but to relax was a promising option. No driver picking us up at the wee hours in the morning, no need to bargain with local transport agents, no “Plan B” preparation for all the usual things that can go wrong when dealing on the spot in Africa. Just relaxing.

Upon arrival at Mombasa airport we picked a Taxi and asked the driver for the Diani Beach area. This is one of the many beach areas – according to our guide book – that has a significant number of beach resorts. We were about to find out that simply walking up a beach resort and asking for two nights accommodation isn’t an easy task. In fact, we were busy most of the day driving around by taxi, stopping and talking with receptionists.

The hotels at this beach are mainly used by tour operators. They are not prepared to “walk-in” guests, such as we were.  Moreover, our dirty look with dust-covered rucksacks probably didn’t help much in convincing receptionists to let us stay. Late in the afternoon, we finally found a posh place, used by several European tour operators, where the receptionist was willing to ask the manager whether we could book rooms or not.

We learned that the price quoted was for a full board stay, which was exactly what we were looking for. Nevertheless, Evgeny couldn’t resist to bargain with the manager over the price and I was afraid that our chance to stay at this place were slipping away. Surprisingly, he was able to get the price down and we handed over our credit cards. As I usually use different accommodation, such as hostels and guest houses, I was unable to put a “true” price tag for a posh full board hotel. To me, this place was simply expensive – so I would have paid whatever they asked me for.

Later that evening, Evgeny told me the reasoning behind his urge to bargain with the hotel manager. He quickly calculated the prices that are usually advertised back home for a one week vacation in such places in Mombasa – including air fare. When I started to do the math myself, I realized that the original price they asked us was way out of proportion and that some of Evgeny’s Russian persistence saved us serious money.

After a very cozy night in an air conditioned room, we met at the breakfast buffet which contained exclusively European food. We tried to mingle among all the other guests. But somehow, we drew the attention of most other guests who were busy staring at us across the tables. Maybe it was because all the guests already knew each other from their flight and we weren’t part of their tour group. Maybe they were confused to hear our Russian conversation. Maybe we were just the most beautiful people. Or maybe the three of us all had big pimples on our foreheads. I decided to go for the pimples and ignore the other guests.

Evgeny and me at the beach in MombasaAfter breakfast it was time for a walk down the beach. The hotel garden featured a small gate, secured by a uniformed guard who was surprised that we wanted to go to the beach. Apparently, most of the other guests were afraid of leaving the hotel premises unattended by a guide. We managed to go to the sea and were not disappointed at all. Not a single tourist, a handful of fishermen and miles of sandy empty beach. As we walked on the beach, looking back to the hotel, I spotted some guests at the hotel pool bar who were still staring at us from the safety of their location. Needless to say that this “adventure beach trip” was very safe and we returned unharmed to the hotel.

On the next day, we were asked by a hotel tour guide whether we wanted to participate in a water polo game at their pool. We declined. Then we were asked if we wanted to participate in a short day Safari trip. We declined again and told the usual apologetic “maybe tomorrow” and continued reading books and sifting through photographs from our trip. The highlight of the day was a monkey who made it in the hotel garden, swinging from three to tree. Many guests grabbed their camera to take a picture of this exotic creature. The hotel tour guide put on hold the water polo game for this. Evgeny and Tanya shook their heads. We really had arrived in a sort of parallel Universe here.

Our posh hotel in MombasaDay three we were preparing to leave for the airport after lunch.  During checkout the same hotel guide from the day before seemed disappointed that we were leaving. “Where are you going?”, he asked. I replied “Back home”. He shook his head in disbelief and replied: “You have only been sitting around in the garden. Next time you visit, you must play water polo.” Yeah, water polo in a hotel seems to be the definition of “having been to Africa”, I thought.

As we were driving away from this odd bubble of European culture I told Evgeny and Tanya: “I guess that now, we have really seen all aspects of Africa”. Evgeny looked up and smiled before reading again the guide book for West Africa. Our next trip together. But that is another story.